J. Sharp, Works Of Game

📜 Sharp, John. 2015. Works of Game: On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Contents overview

After introductory ones, the four main chapters in the book are titled:

  • Game Art
  • Artgames
  • Artists' Games
  • Games as a Medium

These sections present four different ways in which games are included in the modern world of art. The author provides many examples of artworks that illustrate each of the chapter (also with photos and screenshots). This catalogue (non-exhaustive, of course) is thought-provoking and might be of interest to a broad audience.

The book is focused on pieces intended for museums or art galleries and does not dive a lot directly into connecting games and music. From the areas close to ours, the Fluxus movement is referred (p. 22: Fluxchess), there is also a consideration for a gaming equivalent of John Cage's 4'33 (p. 40), and also the piece Open Score (1966) is presented in detail (p. 78), which was a performance by Robert Rauschenberg and Jim McGee based on a tennis match played with amplified rackets. The musical layer of this piece is acknowledged in the book.

Theoretical results

More musical connections are to be made at a theoretical level, especially in the aspect of creating works of game. Maybe the most important insight would be advocating for a closer embrace of all the essential features of games in art. What are these features is debated, but generally the topic is presented in the context of "thick" and "thin" esthetics, where "thin" relates only to formal qualities and "thick" takes into the consideration a deeper context. The choice of using this frame (p. 77, credited to philosopher John Hospers) might not be on point, because usually when the work of art connects to games in the shallow way, it doesn't even get involved with formal aspects and is based merely on common associations. Thin aesthetics in this case would be just employing the item from the game, out of context. And also on the other hand: what constitutes the form of the game?

Mechanic — A subsystem of the game that regulates interaction with a game state.

Balance — Game is balanced when it's mechanics don't lead to the dominance of a single scenario.

It is mentioned in the book that the formal aspect of the game consists of such (hard to perceive) elements like goals and possible decisions (p. 107). It may be argued, that such an elusive "form" should also be included in the thick aesthetics rather than thin. In the book the experiential and conceptual aspect of games is stressed much more than formal, but that may be due to general fashions within postmodern art (form is more of a modernistic staple). When looked from this perspective, we can see that a lot of effort of game designers is put in the grey area just between the formal and the experiential, a perfect example is putting mechanics in balance. Author provides us also description of projects done "right", for example by Nathalie Pozzi and Eric Zimmerman, stating (p. 104) that:

their work finds a way to have its game cake and eat its postmodern conceptualism, too.

As for conceptualism, notably scattered in the book are biographical remarks on Marcel Duchamp (p. …, 115). The famous artist left us with an interesting quote:

while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists

In Works of Game other classics like Eco and Huizinga are properly referred. Impossible to mention was Aesthetic of Play as the book shares the year of publication (and, by the way, the publisher). In their generality, the two books explore very similar areas, although Brian Upton's book works its way from the side of game design, and here in Work of Game the approach is from the opposite side of the art—game relationship and forms of art other than games come to the forefront.

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